Work-Family Conflict: Definition, Types & Examples

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

In today's hectic society, finding work-family balance is difficult. This lesson will define different types of work-family conflicts, the causes behind such conflicts, and what can be done to help alleviate this conflict.


Trouble Finding Work-Family Balance

Approximately one year ago, Joanne divorced and suddenly found herself a newly single mom of two young boys. Joanne has a full time job, but continues to experience financial hardships and recently took on a second part-time job. Joanne's busy schedule often prevents her from spending time with her children and attending their activities. She recently overheard her youngest son tell his classmate that his Mom was too busy for sleepovers, and that she was always working. Joanne struggles to balance her work and family life, but right now her situation doesn't allow for many options.

Work-Family Conflict

What Joanne is experiencing in her current situation is known as work-family conflict. Put simply, work-family conflict occurs when an unhealthy balance exists which forces a person to place work demands above and beyond the demands and needs of family, or alternatively place family demands above those of work. Work-family conflict can also occur when situations at work are brought into family life or situations in someone's family life start affecting work performance.

Because American culture encourages a strong work ethic, work-family conflict tends to be of particular concern in the United States. It has been reported that approximately 90% of working mothers and 95% of working fathers experience work-family conflict in one way or another.

Causes of Work-Family Conflict

Work-family conflict exists in all segments of society. Only the very wealthy don't report it as having a real impact on their lives. There are many possible causes behind work-family conflict including:

  • Changes in the structure of the American family - 70 percent of children live in households where both parents work compared to only 20 percent in the 1960's.
  • Many families have extended family care responsibilities- on a daily basis, 1 in 4 Americans is caring for an elderly family member or someone who is ill.
  • The current economy is requiring organizations to do more with less - this translates into workers becoming multifaceted and taking on more roles and responsibilities than ever before. In turn, people are working more days and longer hours.
  • Career advancement requires a proven work ethic - professionals who want to advance their career are required to show their loyalty to employers by going above and beyond the call of duty, often at the expense of their personal family lives.

Types of Work-Family Conflict

There are two primary types of work-family conflict:

  1. When work demands interfere with family life
  2. When family life interferes with work demands

Let's take a look at each one in turn by going over some examples.

Work-Family Conflict: When Work Demands Interfere - An Example

John is a rising star at the office. He is a young tax attorney for an established law firm and knows he has the potential of becoming a partner within the next few years. John and his wife Julie have two young children, and Julie is a stay at home mom.

There has been some strain in John and Julie's marriage recently. John never seems to be home and frequently misses family activities. Julie feels like a single parent and doesn't see much of John. She expressed her concerns to John but he's too focused on his career.

For John and Julie's, work-family conflict exists due to the demands placed onto John by his career. John is caught up in the moment, and has placed his career in front of his family, causing conflict to arise at home.

Work-Family Conflict: When Family Demands Interfere - An Example

Patty is the single mom of two teenagers, and works at a busy accounting practice. She just got news that her elderly father who lives alone, needs to be supervised due to Alzheimer's. Patty moves her father into her home, just as tax season is starting. Caring for her father is proving to be challenging to Patty, and she is late to work almost every day. Her supervisor is starting to notice a marked decrease in her productivity and performance and wonders what's going on.

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